‘Driven’ Hayla Hoffman claims AAU national title
By Bill Foley
Hayla Hoffman is still pissed off about Feb. 20.
That is the day that the then Butte High sophomore dropped an 11-10 decision to Baker senior Sophia Dulin in the 170-pound championship match at the inaugural MHSA Girls’ State Championships in Lockwood.
“Every time I think of it, I think I should have been up more points,” Hoffman said. “I think I should have held her down longer when she was almost pinned. I could have done some so many more things.”
That might be a loss that Hoffman points to for years to come because it is a defeat that has the Bulldog highly motivated to be a champion.
“The only good thing that came from that loss was that it motivated her,” Butte High wrestling coach Cory Johnston said. “She hasn’t stopped since that loss.”
The day after the season ended was the first day of the next season for Hoffman.
“Ever since then, she’s been driven. She’s going to be a stud,” Johnston said. “She’s turning into a terror. She didn’t take any time off. Everywhere there’s wrestling, there she is.”
Last week, there was wrestling in Orlando, Florida, and Hoffman was there to compete for Team Montana in the AAU National Championships. Hoffman was the only girl out of 14 Butte High wrestlers on the trip, and she was the only Montana wrestler to come home with a gold medal.
Hoffman is a national champion in the girls’ 160-pound weight class.
“It does sound cool,” Hoffman said of the lofty title.
Hoffman entered the tournament as an alternate for Team Montana, and she had to scramble to find her own matches. She did not care how much her competition weighed; Hoffman just wanted to wrestle.
“I was looking for competition everywhere,” Hoffman said. “I wrestled three different weight classes just to get matches. I went around and I talked to every single team.”
While she was able to weigh in for the 160-pound division, but she didn’t have any competition. So, Hoffman looked for matches at 185 pounds and 205 pounds. She was just there to wrestle.
When the tournament ended, Hoffman had an undefeated record, and she was awarded a gold. While she is proud of that medal, she said she would rather have claimed it by beating the field in a bracket.
“It was really a default thing,” she said. “But, hey, it’s gold. So, I wasn’t going to be like, ‘Take it back.’”
On the flight home, Hoffman checked the medal with her luggage.
“All the boys had their bronze their silver medals up on their backpacks going into TSA,” Hoffman said. “They were all like bragging to everyone. I just kept mine in my suitcase and put it on the plane. I just wanted to be more humble. I didn’t want to show off.”
While the medal is nice, Hoffman said she was there to get some matches in and get better.
“Undefeated is undefeated,” she said. “But I was willing to wrestle up to 205 because I went down there to learn something. The only way to learn something is to get your ass kicked.”
To think, this time last year Hoffman had no idea she would ever wrestle a match.
Johnston was her geometry teacher, and he saw a mean streak in Hoffman when she played soccer for the Bulldogs.
“I am really aggressive when I play soccer,” Hoffman said. “I get lots of yellow cards and red cards. When I get mad in wrestling, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m going to pick you up and put you on the ground. I’m going to pin you.’”
Of course, that aggression is something wrestling coaches love.
“I said one thing she’ll never get here is a red card or a yellow card,” Johnston said. “She’ll get high fives.”
Johnson saw he had something special in Hoffman during an open mat before the season began.
“We all said, ‘That girl is mean. She’s going to be pretty good at this,’” Johnston said. “You could see the meanness in her, and she was physical. She is always willing to learn. She jumped in with both feet.”
“I loved it so much after that first practice,” Hoffman said. “I went and bought shoes. I was like, ‘I’m doing this.’”
Butte High fans saw that mean streak come out the first time Hoffman took the match for the Bulldogs.
“I didn’t expect much,” Hoffman said. “Even going into my first match, I was scared. I wasn’t shooting. I was just pushing her a round a little bit. Then she said something that made me mad.”
The result was a convincing victory for Hoffman.
“I was thinking, ‘Whatever she said, I will never say that to you,’” Johnston said.
“That gave me more confidence,” Hoffman said. “I learned so much from that win.”
The wins started piling up for Hoffman, who was ranked No. 1 at 170 pounds throughout the season. They were mostly easy wins, too.
“I think it was my fifth match that I tech’d a girl,” Hoffman said of a technical fall. “I had no idea what that meant.”
Hoffman was familiar with the sport because her sister Hannah was a manager for the Bulldog wrestling team. But she never really watched it.
“I never really paid attention to it,” she said. “I was just like, ‘Whoa, that guy hit that mat.’ I’ve never wrestled before. High school was the first year I ever wrestled. I had no idea what to expect.”
Next season, Hoffman will know full well what to expect, and that is bad news for the competition. Johnson said Hoffman is getting better with each match she finds in the “offseason.”
“She was reliant on the one move,” the coach said. “She’s gotten so much more technically sound.”
That, Johnston said, goes back to the loss in the state championship match.
“We were all pretty heartbroken,” Johnston said. “Her mom came over to us, she grabbed Hayla and said, ‘The best thing that happened was that you lost that match.”
What her mother, Kurry, meant, Johnston said, was that Hoffman now had reason to take her training to the next level.
“She said, ‘If you would have won that match, you would not work as hard,’” Johnston said.
Now, Hoffman is looking to finish the job when it comes to wrestling for the Bulldogs.
“Because I lost by one point and I was so close, it just pushed me even harder,” Hoffman said. “Second isn’t going to happen. Now I have so much higher expectations.”
While she still has two years of high school left, Hoffman is already planning on continuing her career at the next level.
“I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up yet,” she said. “I’m just looking for the right college that will further my wrestling career.”
Johnston says he has no doubts that Hoffman will be able to accomplish that goal.
“She’ll definitely have the accolades, the ability to drive for that,” Johnston said. “She can go as far as she wants to.”